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MOD announces 'Defence as a Platform' at Information Symposium

techUK's Head of Defence discusses the announcement of Defence as a Platform and what it could mean for the technology industry.

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) Information Systems and Service (ISS) organisation is to transform its ICT procurement and provision under an initiative called Defence as a Platform (DaaP), MOD Chief Digital and Information Officer (CDIO), Mike Stone, announced last week.

The DaaP initiative is the foundation stone of CDIO's vision to deliver information services to Defence that are a force multiplier – whether in the operational or business space. He used the opportunity of his inaugural CIO Symposium in London on June 29 – 30 to provide details to the 600 attendees from industry and the MOD.

The MOD is undergoing a complete transformation of its ICT and the Symposium offered the chance to see the vision set out, understand where MOD is going and hear what it means for the military, civil service and industry.

The DaaP concept will provide a shared set of common components and infrastructure across the MOD to support all mission and line of business services and applications, provided as a 'common good' by ISS. No longer will MOD business units procure their own systems or services.

This is a remarkable shift away from the current model characterised by multiple stovepiped systems with duplicative components in multiple providers (increasing cost due to fragmented architecture and no core common infrastructure) to a model whereby a unified, common architecture supports all end user services. ISS will act as the design authority for all new or bespoke requests from end users across Defence (to ensure coherence) whilst all other requirements can be ordered from a single catalogue of services, which ISS will provide. In essence, ISS will become an 'ICT as a Service' organisation.

During his keynote, Mike Stone was clear that this organisational and technical transformation had to be enabled by a cultural change within MOD and ISS. He recognised this would not be achieved overnight but was clear that it was fundamental to achieving the vision. He also said it would require a change in the nature of the relationship between MOD and industry.

The challenge, for both elements, is how they go about delivering cultural change. For MOD, the Symposium itself was designed to give a clear and unequivocal message – from General Sir Richard Barrons (Commander Joint Forces Command, into which ISS reports), Philip Dunne MP (Minister for Defence Procurement and lead minister for information in defence) and Mike himself – that MOD is absolutely committed to the path it is on, so people should have confidence and should throw themselves into the transformation.

The DaaP initiative has a clear impact on industry. The first and most obvious is that defence users will – by and large – engage only with the ISS organisation when requesting or purchasing ICT services. There will be no vendor interaction at the 'point of sale'. This will be a major change and require vendors to have strong relationships within ISS. Although the intent is to limit commercial interaction to the ISS organisation, it is unclear whether industry will still be able to interact with business unit end customers (meaning the Army, Air Force, Navy etc) to help them understand and shape their information requirements that they then place on ISS. Since knowledge of user need is fundamental to shaping a future solution, there must be a mechanism for industry to engage with end users to properly appreciate their challenges. Furthermore, the need to develop a better understanding of the technology industry must remain a priority and thus the way in which ISS, business unit end users and industry come together to share information needs to be a core part of the DaaP culture change.

Secondly, a better defined (and understood) infrastructure and architecture will give industry greater clarity about how their solutions might fit into the overall system. The reduced complexity should allow industry to be more competitive and allow SMEs to provide solutions into a system that is less Byzantine. More will need to be done, not least improving visibility of future requirements so companies can assess and invest accordingly, but DaaP should be welcomed by industry as a positive move.

For MOD customers of ISS, Mike Stone was quick to assert that the transformation did not signal a centralisation of all ICT in defence, a move that could stifle innovation and limit their ability to develop services locally. Using the term 'innovation at the edge', Mike set out a vision whereby MOD business units would be given their own 'innovation platform' (comprising small amounts of compute, hosting and storage) to develop their own – relatively small scale – information capabilities by leveraging the talent they have in their immediate teams. To do so, however, the innovations must interact and interoperate with the DaaP core.

The move to DaaP is bold and ambitious. But it is absolutely the right thing to be doing and will set the MOD on a trajectory to take advantage of the digital revolution. Those companies involved in providing ICT to central government will have recognised immediately the similarities between DaaP and the aspirations behind the Government as a Platform (GaaP) initiative. In many regards, the MOD is ahead of the curve and CDIO's from other departments – as well as the Cabinet Office – will be watching ISS closely.

Aside from being the right thing to do – in terms of increasing operational effectiveness, saving money and creating a positive user experience – DaaP is fundamental to achieving Commander JFC's vision of an information enabled armed forces capable of meeting the challenges of warfare in the information age. There can be no denying that conducting operations in the future will be more – not less – centred on information, be it command of, access to or denial of information. The UK is setting itself on the path to embrace information enabled operations with a pace and vigour that few other nations can match. The evidence is already there in the creation of Defence Intelligence Fusion Centre at RAF Wyton and there is more to come if General Barrons and his supporters achieve their vision.

The realisation of DaaP will provide the bedrock upon which everything is built. Its importance cannot be underestimated.


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